ISLAMABAD: Shakeel Ahmed, a member of the transgender community, who gave up her dancing career and joined the Tablighi Jamaat, yearns to perform Umrah.
But Ahmed’s dream was shattered when she came to know that her visa application was turned down because of the ‘X’ in the gender column on her CNIC and passport, denoting non-binary gender.
Ahmed, who was a famous dancer previously known as Sonu, was supposed to leave for Umrah on December 5 this year with a group of Tablighi Jamaat but just a day before the departure date, she came to know that everyone, except her, in her group got their visas stamped.
“I have been yearning to perform Umrah and to see the Holy Kaabah with my own eyes ever since I have joined the Tablighi Jamaat. But knowing that my visa application was turned down just because I am a transgender person has shocked me,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
Ahmed is among the luckier ones in the transgender community who got ‘X’ stamped in gender columns of their passports and CNICs after the government had directed the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), on the orders of the Supreme Court, to specify transgender on registration forms.
Farzana Jan, the first transgender person to be issued a passport with an ‘X’ in the gender column, appreciated the government for legally recognising the community but she believed that this had also deprived them from performing religious obligations such as Hajj.
“I can travel around the world while having a passport with an ‘X’ in the gender column but I cannot perform Hajj or Umrah… this is sad,” said Jan.
The government inaction regarding informing the Saudi government about this new development is creating problems for members of the transgender community.
After witnessing the plight of their colleagues, many of them are discouraged from getting ‘X’ stamped on their CNICs and passports.
This bias is also reflected in the mandatory Hajj form for the government-sponsorship scheme. It only contains two gender columns – male or female.
A senior official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, who wished not to be named, said: “We have not yet received any directions from the government for including a third column in the Hajj form” and “those with an ‘X’ on their CNICs or passports could not apply using this form”.
Expressing concern, transgender rights activist Qamar Naseem termed it strange that the government had not yet intimated the Saudi government about this development.
Other transgender activists as well as religious scholars are looking forward to writing to the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), requesting him to intercede in this regard by raising the issue with the Pakistani and Saudi governments to get it resolved.
Naseem pointed out that several members of the transgender community, whose passports specified their genders as either male or female, had performed both Hajj and Umrah.
Meanwhile, officials of the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad told The Express Tribune that they entertained only those Hajj and Umrah applications which specified the applicant as either male or female.
“It does not matter whether or not the applicant is a transgender, but the passports that is presented must mention the gender as either male or female,” said the official.